MALACCA: The Wangkang festival, a rare and unique event designed to get rid the “world of evil” has been recognised as a National Heritage by the Federal government.
The recognition has brought cheers to 2012 festival organising committee chairman Lai Poon Ken who strived hard to have the unique event, listed as part of Malaysia’s legacy.
It was the greatest news for the committee and devotees of the Yong Chuan Tian temple in Jalan Parameswara, he said.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and State MCA chief Datuk Gan Tian Loo also visited the temple following the recognition by the National Heritage Department.
Wangkang Festival was organised to collect wandering souls, evil spirits and other negative elements on the streets of Malacca.
These evil spirits are thought to be responsible for the epidemic scourges and chaos that plague the world.
The spirits are then sent into the unknown by way of a barge that is burned on the last day of the festival where devotees hope it will bring health, peace, prosperity and happiness to the world and to Malacca in particular.
The grand and costly religious procession was introduced to Malacca by Hokkien emigrants from Fujian province, China.
Every year since, the temple members have collected the wandering souls, but only when the medium at the Yong Chuan Tian Temple gets the command from the heavens can they organise the elaborate Wangkang procession.
The message is delivered via a small chair, where through the chair the deity directs the temple committee to organise the Wangkang.
Then the main attraction of the festival, the Royal Barge measuring six metres long and two metres high with a six-metre-high mast is pulled by a rope around the city by devotees before setting on fire at the end of the procession.
As recorded in the Malacca Guardian newspaper (Nov 26, 1933), Wangkangs have been organised during troubled times such as in 1905 (the Russian-Japanese war and the Chinese boycott of American goods) and 1919 (when a global flu epidemic broke out after World War I).
In Malacca, the festival was first held in 1845, and then took place every five or eight years.
It stopped in 1880 but revived in 1891 during an outbreak of virulent cholera.
The festival was dormant for 68 years before it was revived in 2001 during the height of the SARS epidemic which jeopardised tourism in Malacca.
The Wangkang customs were brought to Malacca by Hokkien migrants who were fleeing persecution during the Qing or Manchu Dynasty (1644 to1911) in China.
In the Chiang Chew and Chuan Chew districts of Fujian province, China, five deities or Ong Yahs with the surnames Choo, Hoon, Tee, Lee and Pek (in order of seniority) were worshipped.
When the Hokkiens brought their deities to Malacca, the locals came to regard them as their patron saints.